Hibs goalkeeper Zbigniew Malkowski had earned himself a reputation for his blunders but in this match we went from sinner to saint, keeping his side in the game as he pulled off some great saves when it mattered most.
He was more switched on than any of his team-mates, while his Inverness counterpart Mark Brown left his team at a numerical disadvantage in terms of both the scoreline and personnel when he felled Chris Killen in the 81st minute. The resultant penalty was slotted home by the New Zealander and gave Hibs a 2-0 lead which flattered them after a game in which they slogged but rarely displayed the kind of finesse they were capable of.
Hibs lacked the same verve and accuracy which was shown in midweek against Hearts in their tempo and passing in this one, and were it not for Malkowski’s impressive double save two minutes before half-time they could have dropped even further behind the Highland side who started the match two places above them in the league table.
At that stage the Inverness team were every bit the equal of their hosts but the initial save from Craig Dargo was a cracker and he followed it up by blocking from Graham Bayne who attempted to fire home the rebound. The way he reacted, punching the air in the direction of the home fans, signalled just how much it meant to him and his credibility.
Hibs manager John Collins had spoken before the match about how he wanted his side to take the performance in midweek into this league encounter against Inverness, but in the first 45 they were well off the pace.
Under the previous manager’s reign excuses were regularly trotted out pertaining to the relative youthfulness of the squad. The new management regime had warned as much already that such excuses would not be tolerated and perhaps that was what was trundling through the players’ minds as they upped the ante in the second half, gaining themselves a foothold in opposition territory and eventually carving out a winner.
Charlie Christie said he had known that the first goal would be decisive and when it came, in the 64th minute, it was from the boot of Steven Fletcher, a first-half replacement for the injured Merouane Zemmama. A Scott Brown cross from the right was cleared only as far as David Murphy and he nodded it towards Fletcher. With time and space he picked his spot and buried it.
Five minutes later Hibs could have added to that when Brown’s shot was deflected onto the bar by Darren Dods, but Inverness were not done and both Dennis Wyness and Gary McSwegan were sent on to add firepower. It was the latter who forced another superb save from Hibs’ Polish keeper in the 78th minute.
His team-mates built on that and when Guillame Beuzelin, on for Kevin Thomson who was suffering from a virus, sent a lovely-weighted ball through for Killen nine minutes from the end, Brown’s intervention saw him red-carded and, down to ten men, all hopes of an Inverness fightback disappeared up the tunnel behind him.